Godzilla, the King of Monsters, stomped back onto the big screen last night for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Fans of the monster movie genre flocked to theaters to see the King's return, and while some may have been disappointed, many would have been overjoyed.
The film follows a small cadre of characters who serve as witnesses to the sudden resurgence of gigantic radioactive creatures that are long forgotten, which cleverly serves as a self-reflexive metaphor for the revival of the Kaiju film genre itself. At the center of the film's human cast are Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick Ass), Ken Watanabe (Last Samurai), and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad). Each of these actors does an excellent job of introducing the audience to the intricate backstory of Godzilla without feeling patronizing or speaking too "on the nose" about the events of the film.
As the film begins, we observe a series of events stretching back to the end of World War 2 (featured in the film's very clever and well done opening credits) that culminates in a disaster at a Japanese nuclear power facility where Cranston's character is stationed as the plant manager. Fifteen years after the disaster, Cranston, unable to let go of the accident's true origin, convinces his estranged son to return to the site after noticing signs that the disaster may reoccur.
Up until this point, we have seen only allusions to Godzilla and some other as yet unidentified creatures, and audiences may bemoan the fact that we will have to wait longer still to see the King himself. This reviewer, however, was overjoyed to see a monster film focused on developing characters and plots rather than diving into the special effects-heavy monster battling senselessness that plagued Roland Emmerich's 1998 flop of a reboot. In fact, director Gareth Edwards teases us repeatedly by showing us everything from a human perspective, ie watching from the ground, and often hides the actual battle scenes from us. Again, this is something some people may complain about, but it effectively humanizes the struggle against the unstoppable force of the enormous creatures. This is a thematic throwback to the original films during which we saw relatively little of the monsters themselves and the human characters were mostly relegated to trying to survive.
A recurring theme of the film is the futility of humanity's efforts to contain or defeat the enormous Godzilla and the mysterious creatures he is battling, a concept that many fans of the original films will recognize. Much like the iconic films by Ishiro Honda, there is never a sense that mankind poses any actual threat to the oversized creatures terrorizing the film. This is summed up perfectly when at one point, Ken Watanabe's character points out that the best course of action may actually be to simply get out of the way and wait for the ensuing battle to end. Furthermore, it was a welcome change to see that Godzilla had returned to his original behavior of "monster fighter" as opposed to randomly destroying things.
Overall, the film serves as a tremendously effective revitalization of and throwback to the greatest monster films ever made. Ishiro Honda's Kaiju film legacy is well honored in this symbol laden, metaphoric film that creates an oddly believable scenario explaining the existence of these gigantic creatures. If you are like me and grew up loving films like Godzilla (1954), Mothra Vs. Godzilla, or Godzilla Vs. Hedorah, then you will undoubtedly love this film.
My favorite was always Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla and this film is a very close second.